‘Push a button’ on Saudi’s Vision 2030, Goldman Sachs chief urges

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2017
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‘Push a button’ on Saudi’s Vision 2030, Goldman Sachs chief urges

NEW YORK: Goldman Sachs believes it is time to “push a button” on the Vision 2030 plan to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil dependence.
Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of the giant Wall Street bank, told the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York that he felt there was a need to move ahead with the reform plan advocated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “so that what you want to have produce more stability in the long-run doesn’t produce instability in the short-run.
“That’s my wording and my assessment, but I think if you could push a button, which you can’t, that button would be pushed, because it’s there now. I mean, some of these reforms are a kind of a bootstrap,” Blankfein added.
His remarks are a clear sign that the international financial community is fully backing the plans to reduce oil dependency and public sector domination of the Kingdom’s business affairs.
The Goldman boss was speaking on a panel with Yasir Bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, CEO of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, who said there was some resistance to the original plans for Vision 2030 when it was launched 18 months ago, but that has changed.
“We started getting more and more believers. And that’s what you need,” he said.
Both men said that Saudi Arabia needed to attract more foreign talent to the Kingdom to help see the changes through.
Blankfein said: “There’s a lot of people cheering on this new opportunity. That’s an attractive thing. I think the difficulty is going to be attracting a lot of expats and a lot of people. Look, Saudi Arabia has done this in another context. Look at Aramco. World class,” he added.
Al Rumayyan agreed that the Aramco model was a good one. “What you’re trying to do is to create ecosystems.
“We need to have good schools, good health care, good recreations, entertainment, parks, transportation, everything. Of course, we need to have better ecosystems.”
The PIF boss said that a system of “gated communities” could be possible in some of the new developments planned in the Kingdom, like the recently announced Dead Sea Resort and the entertainment complex planned in co-operation with Six Flags group outside Riyadh.
“If we want to build stuff, we need good lawyers, good bankers, good taxers, and if we don’t have them in Saudi, we have to get them from outside,” he added.
In a discussion about Riyadh’s failure to attract more financial professionals to create a real hub for the banking and investment industries, Blankfein said: “You’re going to have to import people to live there. And so, you’re going to have to put them up and make it attractive for them and their families.”
Al Rumayyan highlighted the delay in opening the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, which was supped to be delivered in 2012.
“What went wrong? It’s like one of the most beautiful projects, developments, you can ever see anywhere in the world; about 64 beautiful buildings. It’s like an architect’s dream. Beautiful designs, everything is so good about it.
“Now, there’s a problem. It wasn’t looked at from the commercial sense, and that’s where we come in. OK, we like beautiful things and good things, and development, and what have you, but at the same time, it should make sense,” he added.
Blankfein agreed that there had to be commercial sense to the development of a financial district. “You have to create the culture of commerce that makes it an attractive place for a hub. Now, one of the great things is, it’s where the money is and it’s where the population is for the region.
“But there’s no reason for Dubai, geographically, to have it, and if you turned back the clock 60 years ago you wouldn’t have had a clue that that would be the case. But they (Dubai) were very aggressive, commercial and created a lot of incentives for people to aggregate there and really kind of stole it,” he added.
Ian Bremmer, the American founder of the Eurasia Group consultancy who was moderating the discussion, raised the perception of Saudi Arabia in the US.
“Everyone in this room looks at Vision 2030, looks at the Kingdom, wants it to succeed. But when you go to the US as a whole and you ask people what they think about Saudi Arabia, you frequently get, you know, a very different perspective,” Bremmer said.
Blankfein said: “I think this is going to be a real challenge for Saudi Arabia and I think they have to get on it and you have to walk the corridors of Congress, and you have to make yourself known.”
Al Rumayyan added: “The relationships between Saudi Arabia and the United States has been there since President Roosevelt came to see King Abdul Aziz. It’s had maybe some bit of volatility, but all in all, it’s always been a good relationship. President Trump’s first visit to Saudi Arabia meant a lot to us. And I think we are very much aligned.”
Goldman Sachs has so far won only one mandate in the Kingdom’s huge $200 billion privatization plan — the advisory role in the sell-off of Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport.
Blankfein said: “Sometimes money is just money, and sometimes it’s more than just money, because with certain investments come a valuable validation that then brings other money. And then, you know, we like to think, in some ways, we carry that.”


T-Mobile, Sprint see Huawei shun clinching US deal -sources

Updated 16 December 2018
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T-Mobile, Sprint see Huawei shun clinching US deal -sources

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. believe their foreign owners’ offer to stop using Huawei Technologies equipment will help with the United States clearing their $26 billion merger deal, sources said, underscoring the lengths to which Washington has gone to shut out the Chinese company.
Like all major US wireless carriers, T-Mobile and Sprint do not use Huawei equipment, but their majority owners, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG and Japan’s SoftBank Group Ltd, respectively, use some Huawei gear in overseas markets.
People familiar with the deal between T-Mobile and Sprint, the third and fourth largest US wireless carriers, said US government officials had been pressuring Deutsche Telekom to stop using Huawei equipment, and the companies believed they had to comply before a US national security panel would let them move forward on their deal.
Both Deutsche Telekom and Softbank were reported this week to be seeking to replace the world’s biggest network equipment maker as vendor. Now, T-Mobile and Sprint expect the US panel, called Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), to approve their deal as early as next week, the sources said.
The sources, however, cautioned that negotiations between the two companies and the US government have not been finalized yet, and any deal could still fall through. They asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.
Sprint, T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, SoftBank and CFIUS declined to comment. Huawei did not respond to a request for comment.
The US government and its allies have stepped up pressure on Huawei over concerns that the company is effectively controlled by the Chinese state and its network equipment may contain “back doors” that could enable cyber espionage, something which Huawei denies. Several telecom operators in Europe and Australia have said they will exclude the Chinese firm from their fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks.
The pressure on Huawei has already heightened tensions between the United States and China over trade. Earlier this month Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its billionaire founder, was arrested in Canada on a US extradition request. US prosecutors have accused her of misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran. China has asked for her release.
In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, US President Donald Trump drew a connection between the Huawei CFO extradition case and his administration’s trade row with China, saying he would be willing to intervene if it helped resolve the dispute or serve US national security interests.
The United States has been stepping up its targeting this year of both Huawei and ZTE, China’s second-largest maker of telecommunications equipment. Last March, Trump blocked chip maker Broadcom Ltd’s attempted $120 billion takeover of US peer Qualcomm Inc. over concerns the deal could boost Huawei’s competitive position.
ZTE was crippled in April when the United States banned American firms from selling it parts, saying the company broke an agreement to discipline executives who had conspired to evade US sanctions on Iran and North Korea.
The ban, which became a source of friction in Sino-US trade talks, was lifted in July after ZTE paid $1.4 billion in penalties, allowing the firm to resume business.
SoftBank plans to replace 4G network equipment from Huawei with hardware from Nokia and Ericsson, Nikkei reported on Thursday, without citing sources.
Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest telecoms company, on Friday said it was reviewing its vendor plans in Germany and other European markets where it operates, given the debate on the security of Chinese network gear.
The Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission must also approve T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s merger. T-Mobile previously said it expected the deal to close in the first half of 2019.